Mentor Series: The Secrets of Food Retail, with Wendy Nunnelley

Mentor Series: The Secrets of Food Retail, with Wendy Nunnelley

Wendy Nunnelley is a beverage industry executive and an angel investor in more than 20 early-stage companies, primarily in consumer goods and services. She is a Senior Vice President at Diageo and was previously a Vice President at The Coca-Cola Company, with experience in strategy, planning, operations, business development, and revenue management, including pricing/promotion. She is on the board of Naturally Austin and advises several early-stage companies. Most of her investments are in minority and women-founded companies, and she often works with emerging brands that serve underserved consumers or are oriented towards health and wellness. 


Wendy Nunnelley

CPG industry executive + angel investor

When most people approach the development and marketing of a food product, they focus on the product itself—how it tastes and the appeal to the consumer. The work that you do emphasizes a much larger picture around selling food products. What is the symbiosis that has to occur between the product, its packaging, its pricing, and even the shelf that it lands on? Tell us a bit about how that all works together.

When I communicate with founders of [food] companies, I say: Of course, your product has to be great. It has to taste great, the branding has to be great and it needs to be appealing to your target consumer. But you also need to think about a much larger chain of events to get your food product into the stomach of a consumer. If you are a small brand, you are probably going to need to go through a distributor, and then they are going to sell your product to a big retailer. From there, you need to ensure your product shows up on the shelf the way you want to, so that when your target shopper walks in the door of that big retailer, they encounter your product and want to buy it. You also have to consider how your product appeals to the retailer and creates value for them (not just for the consumer). It is much more complex than just having a great product.

In the instance of impact-focused food products, is there a particular strategy for getting people who care about the impact to encounter it and want to buy it? How does pricing factor in?

There are different stories that the shopper needs to be told in order to want to buy your product. When you think about impact-oriented [food products], the great thing is that those values are at the top of mind right now both for retailers and for shoppers. So you can be very overt about the impact, which gives you options when you position yourself to get into a store and to get your product in front of the type of shopper cares who about an impact-oriented product.

If you have a story and a real impact, but you are priced the same as all of the other products, you're not communicating the right thing about your brand. 

For example, let’s say your product is a potato chip that has some impact-orientation because the farmers growing the potatoes are empowered or are owning their own land. How do you get your potato chips to the right place in the store where somebody is going to understand that impact and want to buy the product? You probably are (and should be) charging a higher price. Your price communicates a lot about your brand—if you are priced quite high, that has a halo that says  “Wow, there must be something special about this brand.” There's a limit to that, of course—you can’t go too high or consumers won’t actually buy it. But you also don't want to price too low, because that actually communicates that your brand is not special. If you have a farmer story and a real impact, but you are priced the same as all of the other potato chips, you're not communicating the right thing about your brand. 

In addition to pricing, what role does placement play into a food business's strategy? How does the specific spot where your product ends up in a store communicate information and manifest your brand in a consumer’s mind?

Positioning is really crucial. Going back to our potato chip example, [we can consider how] placement in a store would work: Is your target consumer a person who goes to the potato chip section all the time, and now we're giving them something that's a better alternative? Or are we trying to appeal to somebody who doesn't even go to the conventional potato chip section, and often buys impact-oriented products from the organic snacks section? That determines where you need to be.

As a founder of a small start-up food company, you should be able to articulate [positioning] to the retailer very clearly. If you have a coherent goal, like "I want to bring people who normally eat meat into a plant based foods,” for example, your ability to clearly articulate that to a retailer will give you credibility with that retailer. Then they are more likely to put you in the place where you want to be.

What is a good approach to promotion in retail stores?

Promotion strategy is important to think about. I've seen small companies start out with a pretty good pricing strategy, but when they get out to retailers, if the product isn't moving the way they thought, they start running too many promotions. Before you know it, you are losing money hand over fist because they over-promoted. The problem is that now, the consumer thinks their product is cheap. Founders need to think about the fact that they are training shoppers when they set prices. How you price a product trains the shopper as to what your brand is worth. If you have too many promotions, the consumer will believe that your product should always be on discount.

What are some strategies for package size?

I realize many start-ups are small operations, but if you have the opportunity to play with variations on your package size, I would definitely do that. Consider the way that competitor brands show up in a big club store—it is quite different from the way they show up in a small convenience store. Your ability to play with different package sizes means that you can use packaging to your advantage to hit key price points in different settings. 

For instance, let’s say that you have determined that the price point that makes sense for your brand is $3.99. That is where you need to be to get a win for yourself, the consumer, and the retailer. But you’re finding that you financials don't really support that. Most companies would look to increasing the price point to $4.50. But I would say that your first move should actually be to decrease the size of your package so you can hit $3.99. You want to prioritize the price point and use smaller packages to your advantage.

What are retailers looking for and asking for in terms of product? What do they want to put on shelves right now?

You should network in the industry (with other companies who sell to those retailers) to gain insight on questions they've been asked during customer conversations. Certainly, all of [the retailers] care about making money. I coach founders to think about how they can make a retailer realize they will make money off their product. There are certain retailers who care about impact-oriented food brands because they know their shoppers care about it, but at the end of the day, they want to make money. You need to sell a profit story to them.

Looking ahead, especially considering an increased desire for impact-focused brands, will this continue to be a crowded space? And how can emerging food businesses navigate it?

As an investor, I absolutely feel that it is a crowded space. Some of that is driven by consumer preferences—more often, consumers want a product that fits their exact needs. As such, this space is going to continue to be crowded. The question is—how do you stand out? Using direct-to-consumer marketing (like Instagram) to build credibility and velocity helps. But you can also stand out by having a clear brand strategy that is differentiated, and really having your act together on these commercial elements—you know how you’re going to get this product to you retailer, you know how to price it and why, you have a promotions strategy, and (of course) your packaging looks amazing. All of that makes a really big difference when you are a small brand.

Farming in the Philippines: Meet our Program Coordinator Ana Ojeda Osmena

Farming in the Philippines: Meet our Program Coordinator Ana Ojeda Osmena

This month, we are excited to take some time to introduce our new FoodFutureCo program coordinator Ana Ojeda Osmena. Ana is an entrepreneur and Food Studies Masters candidate at NYU. She tells us about the amazing farm and fast-casual restaurant projects she co-founded in the Philippines, as well as her work in the Food Studies program.

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I believe that immediate positive change can be made in the food system though innovation and entrepreneurship.

Tell us about your background, and what you did prior to joining FoodFutureCo?

I was born in New York, but I grew up in the Philippines until very recently. In the Philippines, I spent almost 6 years working for the government. I was a director in the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the government agency responsible for poverty reduction and hunger alleviation. While there, I got to work with farmers and fishermen, and was exposed to structural and social issues that they faced. These included poverty, as well as unpredictable occurrences, like man-made and natural disasters and climate change.

While in the Philippines, I also founded El Dorado Farms (@Eldoradofarmsph) and Gusto Fast and Fresh (@gustofastandfreshph) with my sister. We founded the farm in 2017 because we were interested in growing organic fruits and vegetables for our family and friends. I wanted to know, first hand, what it would be like to farm, to grow your own food and to make a living out of it. It turns out: it is difficult. Our first season was hard—we really needed to get to know the land, the soil, and the rain, and learn more about what grew best in the land. We even needed to learn more about the insects on our farm. At the same time, we needed to know the market: what did people want to eat, and buy, and in what quantities?

I used the experience with El Dorado Farms to talk about the situation of agriculture, farming and food in the Philippines today. The Philippines is agricultural country with 30 percent of its work force involved in agriculture. Of that 30 percent, 90 percent of them live under the poverty line. It is a sad and troubling irony that the people producing our food oftentimes do not have enough money to feed themselves and their families. Farmers often also do not have access to capital, technology, markets, and opportunities to improve their living and working conditions. All they have are their land and their hands. Their dedication and commitment to continue to plant and work the earth is what keeps the rest of the country sustained with enough food. We hope to continue working with and supporting those farmers in our area to provide markets for their produce and promote sustainable farming practices. We also hope to encourage other young people to get into farming.

About a year ago, my sister and I also opened Gusto!, a fast casual farm to table restaurant. The goal of Gusto! is to provide diners with naturally grown food and promote local ingredients such as Adlai (“jobs tears”)—an ancient indigenous grain. We re-thought the Filipino diet, and how we might recreate some of its dishes to represent a more balanced diet and a stronger focus on vegetables.

We all eat, which means that we are all part of the food system, and we can all play a role in shifting it. El Dorado Farms and Gusto! are avenues for people to ask and think: Where is my food from, who grows it, and how is it grown? We hope to encourage people to be more conscientious consumers, while, of course, enjoying the food at the same time.

What are you currently focused on in your master's degree at NYU?

I just completed my first year in the Food Studies Program in NYU, and I am focusing my degree on policy and entrepreneurship. A recent project that I worked on was centered around jellyfish as an ingredient. One of our courses examines how climate change will affect the food system. Climate change encourages jellyfish to bloom in the ocean, which can disrupt existing oceanic ecosystems. There have been studies on the nutrients and benefits in consuming jellyfish, among other research on other incredibles uses of jellyfish such as in biotech, so I created a jellyfish granola bar as a snack that reflects the changing ecosystem.

Why were you interested in joining FFC as a fellow?

I wanted to learn more about the different ventures and entrepreneurs in the food space, and especially the areas they seek to disrupt or the issues they want to address. I believe that immediate positive change can be made in different segments of the food system though innovation and entrepreneurship.

Where is your favorite place to eat in the city and why?

My favorite place to eat in the city is in my own kitchen—where I get to cook and eat Filipino food. I have it almost everyday, and love to have friends over to share my country though its food. My favorite Filipino dish at the moment is chicken and pork adobo—a chicken and pork stew cooked in vinegar and soy sauce, best eaten with rice.

What food product has you proselytizing to friends and family right now?

Vegetables! All kinds. I have been enjoying eating vegetables that are not in the typical salad form, as well as discovering different tastes, flavors, and textures of different nuts and herbs I’ve found in the city.

What would your last meal on earth be?

A dish called inasal—a Filipino style, charcoal-grilled chicken marinated in vinegar, calamansi and lemongrass, served with white rice and coffee ice cream for desert.

Mentor Series: Sarah Smith, On Creating Multiple Food Futures

Mentor Series: Sarah Smith, On Creating Multiple Food Futures

Sarah Smith is a Research Director with the Institute for the Future’s Food Futures Lab, where she works with many of the world’s largest food, health, and CPG companies to challenge their assumptions and identify emerging trends and discontinuities that will transform the global marketplace and global food system. We chatted with her about how to envision the role of impact-focused food companies in the future, and what types of values should shape our growing and eating.

How Our New Cohort is Transforming the Food System

How Our New Cohort is Transforming the Food System

This month, as we celebrate the graduation of our fourth cohort from our accelerator program, we are excited to share the stories of the fabulous founders of our fifth cohort, and how their social enterprises are changing the food system for the better. From Indian snack foods to solar-powered greenhouses, these companies are now a part of our good food community.

Mentor Series: Alicia Robb, and Why to Invest in Women-Owned Food Businesses

Mentor Series: Alicia Robb, and Why to Invest in Women-Owned Food Businesses

We sit down with Alicia Robb, a managing partner at Next Wave Impact, an early stage venture fund, to gain insights into the investor perspective on food start-ups. She is a Visiting Scholar with the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, as well as being the author of several books on investing in women-run and minority-run companies.

We ask her what she looks for in a food entrepreneur, as well as her take on diversity in investing and the future of veganism.

Mentor Video Series Kickoff: The Future of Food Business, with Shen Tong

Mentor Video Series Kickoff: The Future of Food Business, with Shen Tong

To kickoff our new mentor video series, we sat down with the illustrious founder of FoodFutureCo, Shen Tong, to give some insight into FFC’s vision for the future role of food businesses in shaping our food system, and the potential of accelerators to amplify that change.

What We'll Be Eating in 2019: Food Trend Forecast

What We'll Be Eating in 2019: Food Trend Forecast

Through the coming decade, what we eat will be shaped by new tastes, new innovations, and primarily, by new concerns held by consumers. Food businesses will have to offer more personalized food products, more sustainable packaging, and more international tastes (Japanese snack boxes, anyone?) delivered to our doorstop. Younger generations will be a driving force of change in food ways, and food producers are tuning into their concerns and habits. Our culture has shifted from considering food as an energy and sensory pleasure source to an accessible way to relate to culture, to nature, and to friends and communities.

Eating Your Values: How to Celebrate a Sustainable Holiday

Eating Your Values: How to Celebrate a Sustainable Holiday

Cooking is often an expression of ourselves—our values, our lifestyles, and our cultural traditions. The holidays present an opportunity to express these values as we attempt to weave them into our daily lives, including conscious eating and sustainable living.  It is a time to reevaluate our traditions, and take a stand on practices that don’t contribute to a robust, healthy food system. It is also a time to reinforce and celebrate traditions that we can feel good about, from sourcing our food in an ecologically responsible way, to making recipes that repurpose food waste into soups, stocks, and preserves. By being aware of what we (literally) bring to the table at the holidays, we can conscientiously share our ethics with family and friends.

The Coming Water Crisis, and Why It’s Actually About Food

The Coming Water Crisis, and Why It’s Actually About Food

By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the world is facing a global water crisis. What is less apparent is how this crisis is intimately tied to how we source, produce, and consume food. In the face of drastic warnings of reduced freshwater around the world in coming decades (UNESCO has explicitly warned that climate change will alter the availability of water and threaten water security), it is important to identify what, exactly, a lack of freshwater means. What are the most urgent risks, and where will it take its highest toll? What are our best areas for innovation?